Wheeling is made of many different neighborhoods. Each with its own distinct culture and history. South Wheeling, which was once known as a densely-populated manufacturing hub is being reimagined and revived by residents who are dedicated to their neighborhood’s bright future.
Manufacturing was big in Wheeling during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with industries ranging from the world’s largest cut nail factory to breweries – many of those jobs were concentrated within the South Wheeling neighborhood.
According to reports, “Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Czech, and Greek immigrants were drawn to the factory jobs, making the area most ethnically diverse in the city.”
While this history has made South Wheeling an indispensable component to the city, the economic downturn of the 1980s, forced some folks to leave the city and look for opportunities elsewhere.
But, a lot has changed since the ’80s, and the communities’ most ardent supporters have taken the reigns and are working to revitalize the neighborhood from the grassroots up.
I spoke with South Wheeling’s own Ginger Kabala. Although Ginger has lived in South Wheeling for more than a decade, you might be surprised to learn she is not originally from the City. Nevertheless, her adopted neighborhood has welcomed her with open arms – and she has put those arms to work.
“It’s my dream, more than anybody else’s, to improve this neighborhood. I think if we lined the streets with trees, and started using the ordinances that we have to maintain houses we could create a place people really want to move to. The people are very independent here. They want to be able to care for their property,’ Ginger says thoughtfully, “But, it can be hard sometimes.”
Ginger, and the neighborhood itself, have been recognized throughout the years for ongoing community engagement and beautification efforts.
There has been a concerted effort to inspire growth in South Wheeling with initiatives like local litter cleanups, a community garden, an American Flag program, and larger community institutions taking shape, like the South Wheeling Preservation Alliance.
Many folks I have spoken to echo Ginger’s concerns about the importance of property maintenance. And while housing continues to be a top priority in the city, South Wheeling, with recent housing developments by the Woda group, is proving to be a solution for it.
“In South Wheeling, you don’t have to worry what the joneses’ think because they don’t live here.” Ginger laughs.
“There is an established independence that people have here. If we can capitalize on that as the number of [South Wheeling] natives diminish, we can inspire a new group of folks to care for the neighborhood.”
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You may be aware of the growing energy and enthusiasm in South Wheeling with organizations and businesses like The Appalachian Outreach and Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration occupying vacant spaces and expanding their footprint.
Lisa Minder, a new South Wheelingite herself, has recently opened South Wheeling Grocery.
Talking about her time spent in Beijing, China, before coming back to Wheeling, Lisa describes the corner stores she saw there.
“When I was back in Beijing, there were types of corner stores that would sell everything – including live fish! Similar to a Kroger in the states but jam-packed in just a small space.”
While Minder doesn’t plan to sell live fish anytime soon, she understands the need for a grocery store in what many would consider a food desert. In the mid-1900s, Minder’s maternal grandfather was sent from Pittsburgh to Wheeling to run Wholesale Grocery, a grocery distributor in Centre Market, where the Smart Centre is located today. She hopes her store can become a space for the community to utilize and a friendly place for folks to gather.
Minder’s store occupies the original Neihaus Grocery location at 3801 Jacob St., founded in 1850.
After covering the unique obstacles of opening a small business during a global pandemic, Minder offered some perspective on the everyday challenges the people she meets in South Wheeling face.
“I think we need more job training here. The people I meet that come into my store, are often looking for a job and want to work.” Minder says, “But they may not know where to go or have the necessary skill sets to apply.”
Minder has recently included resource guides in her store to give to folks who need assistance or support.
South Wheeling is one of the largest neighborhoods in the city and is home to some of Wheeling’s most notable historic names including Cooey Bentz, Schmulbach, and Kennedy.
But South Wheeling is more than its past. Opportunities for growth have never been more clear and as I like to say – we have all the ingredients, we just need the recipe. I’m inspired by the folks I see working hard every day to engage their communities and build a future for their kids and grandkids in South Wheeling.
As a city, we are growing in the right direction and with the continued strength, passion, and perseverance of community members like Ginger Kabala and Lisa Minder, there is nowhere to go but up!
Before my phone call with Ginger ended, I asked what makes her work so hard for her community.
She shared this wisdom.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
• Rosemary Ketchum is a member of the Wheeling City Council representing Ward 3. Ketchum also serves as the Chief Facilitator of the public health coalition “Edible Mountain”. Rosemary’s work in community organizing and politics has been featured on TODAY, MSNBC, CBS, and CNN.